One might find it odd Liz Dennard is fine with the thought that her son, a junior, could return to football, the sport in which he broke his neck in the fall of 2011.
“I used to be scared, kind of, but now?” she said with a peaceful smile. “Just put it in God’s hands. He took care of him this far.”
Forgive Liz Dennard for believing in miracles. She’s the mother of at least two — the Miracle who is a seventh-grader in Saks’ softball program and the miracle that is Corpio.
Corpio concluded his junior baseball season Tuesday as Saks played a doubleheader at Ohatchee. He was the starting shortstop this season.
He went right into baseball after playing basketball.
One almost forgets how close he came to not walking, but he never stopped. It’s amazing, considering the severity of his now-mended injury and the fact that not even he knew how seriously he was hurt until the next day.
For those with hazy memories, Dennard was the sophomore receiver who got tackled on his head during a 2011 football game against J.B. Pennington. Saks baseball coach Wes Ginn was an assistant football coach at Weaver at the time and saw the play on film.
“We knew when we saw it — you could tell it could definitely injure a kid,” Ginn said. “The way he landed, right on top of his head, that’s tough for anybody. I don’t know how he feels, but I would have to consider myself lucky just to be still moving around.”
Thing was, Dennard was moving around just fine after the play. He wanted to go back into the game, but then-Saks football coach Clint Smith erred on the side of caution and urged him to see a doctor the next day.
With Dennard doubting he was seriously injured, he and his dad nearly turned around and went back home before seeing the doctor.
As those familiar with the story know, they went on to get Corpio examined. Revelations in the X-ray prompted his immediate transport to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham.
Turns out, the bone in one of his vertebra was “barely holding on,” Liz Dennard said at the time. Corpio’s strong neck muscles had held things in place, helping to avert a catastrophic injury.
He underwent surgery, with doctors inserting plates to support his mending vertebra.
About a month after surgery, he said he was doing light weight lifting, including dumbbell curls. Within two months after surgery, he was back to a fuller range of weight lifting, including squats.
“I was trying to get my neck back strong for football,” he said. “If I could go back out there, I wanted to be stronger than I was before, that so I wouldn’t be able to hurt myself or get an injury anymore.”
Meanwhile, cautious doctors kept Dennard out of basketball and baseball during the winter and spring months of his sophomore year.
“It was very tough, because I knew that somewhere, off in those sports, I could get that extra run or that extra basket in basketball,” he said. “I could have just added a little bit more spark to the team.”
Dennard said he “was praying” that he would be cleared to play his junior football season, but the doctor managing his case erred toward caution.
“When I was at the hospital, he was like, I healed up perfectly fine,” Dennard said. “He said half of the people that come through the hospital don’t heal up like I did, but I healed up fast enough.
“He told me that, in football, that it was possible that I could play, but he don’t want to be the one that cleared me, because he don’t want it to be that it was his fault if I would have got hurt again or paralyzed.”
So he spent football season on the sideline, helping to signal in plays. Then came basketball season and his chance to, once again, wear a Saks uniform in competition.
“It felt really good,” he said. “It felt weird at first, but I kind of got off into it and started playing.”
Dennard lost a year of skill development and conditioning. Ginn, who was Weaver’s head basketball coach before coming to Saks as an assistant in football and head baseball coach, watched Dennard from the stands in basketball and from the dugout in baseball and could see the impact of a year out of the games.
“Any time you sit out like that, you’re going to be a little bit behind, especially in baseball, especially hitting,” Ginn said. “He has hit good at times, and he’s struggled at times, but we leave him in that second spot (in the batting order) because he’s capable of making plays.”
But Ginn called Dennard “a heck of a shortstop” and likes his speed and power enough to consider moving him into a clean-up spot in the order next year. There’s even a chance that Dennard could pitch some in 2014.
Headed into Tuesday’s doubleheader, Dennard was hitting .329 with a home run, 18 RBIs, six doubles and eight steals.
Underpinning it all, however, is a sense that Dennard is a walking, running, throwing, bat-swinging miracle.
“Corpio appreciates to be able to play,” Ginn said. “He works hard. He hustles. He did the same thing in basketball.”
With baseball season ending, Dennard’s focus turned toward June. That’s when doctors will tell him what they think of him playing football in the fall, and he said he has “high expectations” for being cleared to play.
That would put him back in the arena where a freak tackle could have left him paralyzed, but don’t expect fear from Dennard or his mom. They said they have a counterweight for fear.
They figure football wouldn’t be an option if it wasn’t meant to be, and who can blame them, after the miracle they’ve seen?
“Every time I think about it, I just thank God,” Dennard said. “He held me together and kept His hand on me through all of the surgery and when I got hurt on the field.
“I just want to keep my head straight on and focus on what’s in front of me, keep going down that right path. If God puts something right there in my way and He wants me to do that, I’m going to do it and don’t get sidetracked off of it.
“Either way it goes, God has a plan for you, no matter what.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.